Could rotavirus genome be key to COVID-19 vaccine for kids? IU researchers say yes.
For Immediate Release
Mar 10, 2021
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Since the pandemic struck the United States more than a year ago, Indiana University Bloomington virologist John Patton, graduate student Asha Philip and others have been working on a COVID-19 vaccine for young children, based on a well-established childhood vaccine for the common illness rotavirus.
Currently, no available COVID-19 vaccines have been authorized for use in children younger than 16.
By reverse-engineering the rotavirus genome to serve as a vector for the now-familiar SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, the research team succeeded in generating genetically stable recombinant rotaviruses that contain portions of the spike protein, which could lead to a combined rotavirus-COVID-19 vaccine to replace current widely used rotavirus vaccines.
“Our findings raise the possibility of constructing rotavirus vaccine strains that are capable of protecting against not only rotavirus but also COVID-19,” Philip said.
Patton is a professor of biology and Blatt Chair of Virology in the College of Arts and Sciences at IU Bloomington. Philip is a Ph.D. student in Patton’s lab and lead author on the study.
Rotavirus is common among young children, causing nausea and diarrhea, but vaccination has long reduced its spread in many countries. A combined rotavirus-COVID-19 targeted vaccine would be a huge step forward, Philip said.
By leveraging rotavirus immunization programs already in place, a combined vaccine could be distributed and administered to infants and young children around the world. Although children make up a tiny fraction of COVID-19 infections and deaths, they may be asymptomatic carriers of the disease, compromising our ability to reach herd immunity.
A vaccine for young children would also allow schools to open up more freely, enabling activities that involve close contact. And the process used to create rotavirus-based combination vaccines may also prove useful for vaccines against other intestinal viruses such as norovirus.
The IU team is now working to determine how successful the combined rotavirus-SARS-CoV-2 vaccine is at producing the desired antibody response. Meanwhile, their current results emphasize the potential of a combined vaccine becoming a routine immunization for children in the not-too-distant future.
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Note to journalists: A copy of the research paper is available from IU Research, firstname.lastname@example.org. The paper was published on bioRxiv as a preprint on Feb. 18, 2021.